History of the Steem cryptocurrency (STEEM)

July 02, 2018
Chris Wheal

Steem is the first cryptocurrency that attempts to monetise online content. It rewards individuals who make contributions to its blogging platform Steemit.

Steem coin

When it launched, Steem became the third largest market capitalisation of all cryptocurrencies: Shutterstock

Steemit is similar to social media websites such as Reddit and Facebook in that it encourages users to post and share relevant content. The difference is that the reward blockchain platform comes with its own smart media tokens called Steem.

The token is rewarded based on the user’s performance within the community and the number of upvoting. As smart media tokens accumulate, they can be cashed out for fiat currency.

When it launched, Steem (STEEM) became the third largest market capitalisation of all cryptocurrencies. Yet, the novel platform blockchain has sparked controversy with a mix of critics and supporters, with many saying there are too many confusing concepts.

It has a market cap of $339.2m and at the time of writing is ranked 33rd It has more than 265 million of its virtual coins distributed.

A brief history of Steem

Steem (STEEM) was created in New York in 2016 by Ned Scott and Daniel Larimer. Larimer had already developed a cryptocurrency exchange platform called BitShares in 2014. He is also the developer of the Delegated Proof-of-Stake consensus algorithm.

Scott and Larimer first discussed using the hivemind trust of blockchain to create an insurance network. The idea was that a group of people were incentivised to pool money that could be drawn upon by an individual in the event of an accident or emergency.

Scott said it quickly grew into a much larger vision and Steemit was born as a place where individuals get rewarded by a community for posting and voting on content. He said: “We kept coming back to the idea that the most useful and powerful thing to leverage around a cryptocurrency is a community.”

When Steem rolled out to users it translated to more than $1.2m with a $350m market capitalisation. The currency saw an 1,800% increase in its price from $0.24 to $4.63.

Steem has already paid more than $40m to its users, and there are almost one million accounts in the Steemit social network with one and a half million publications being made each month.

Steemit website

There are almost one million accounts in the Steemit social network: Shutterstock

Growth and development

An investor can either buy Steem on cryptocurrency exchanges or earn it by engaging with the Steemit community by posting content or curating and voting. If a user stumbles upon a post and votes on it before it goes viral, they can earn rewards for curation. The earlier a user upvotes content that becomes popular, the more the user is rewarded.

However, the final amount of reward is determined by the total Steem Power the user possesses. Steem Power symbolises how much influence a user has inside the Steemit platform. The more Steem Power the user has, the more influence they have in determining the best posts.

The two other main currencies are Steem and Steem Backed Dollars. Steem is liquid and can be bought in an exchange and converted into Steem dollars or Steem Power whereas Steem Backed Dollars are there to protect content creators from volatility and are pegged to the value of the USD. They can be redeemed on the Steem.it platform for about one dollar worth of Steem.

Uniquely Steem?

Steem’s creators have described it as a revolutionary social-media platform allowing its users to profit from the content they create.

Accounts that are engaged in generating new blocks are known as Witnesses and are measured by the community ‘upvote.’ The whole process is called ‘Delegated Proof of Stake’. It allows the platform to deal with a greater volume of transactions than most cryptocurrencies.

Witnesses on Steemit are analogous to mining pool operators on Bitcoin. They are responsible for block production and security of the network.

Also unique to Steem is its ‘Proof-of-Brain’. This is the rewards algorithm that encourages people to create and curate content. The Steem website says this: “enables tokens to be distributed by “upvote” and “like”-based algorithms and can be integrated with websites to align incentives between application owners and community members to spur growth”.

Its tokens are generated at a fixed rate of one block every three seconds and these are distributed to various parties in the system based on the blockchain’s rules. Three-quarters of new tokens are distributed to the “rewards pool” for content creators and curators, while smaller fractions are awarded to vested token holders.

Steem spelled out in scrabble letters

Witnesses on Steemit are analogous to mining pool operators on Bitcoin: Shutterstock

Community criticism

The project is not without its critics and some market observers expressed their concerns that Steem might be either a pump and dump scam or a Ponzi scheme with some predicting that the digital currency would quickly collapse when it runs out of new users to deceive.

Steemit’s creators have responded to criticisms by pointing out features such as Steem Power. Users who hold more tokens in their account as “Steem Power” for three months get to decide where a larger portion of the rewards pool is distributed. This encourages Steem community members to invest the assets back into the platform.

Key players

Dan Larimer – co-founder of Steemit Inc and chief technology officer until March 2017. He is also chief executive of Cryptonomex Inc. This is a blockchain technology consulting company that was founded with his father, Stan Larimer. Larimer also founded the decentralized exchange BitShares, Invictus Innocations and the EOS blockchain.

Ned Scott – co-founder and chief executive of Steemit Inc. A former financial analyst, Scott said he was fascinated by the economics that drive cryptocurrencies.

What are people saying?

Ned Scott, CEO of Steemit

Ned Scott, CEO of Steemit

Ned Scott – co-founder of Steemit, Inc, said: “We kept coming back to the idea that the most useful and powerful thing to leverage around a cryptocurrency is a community. Steem was born out of ideas about insurance and mutual aid: it was the idea that people would be able to help each other peer-to-peer if they were struggling to solve problems or needed assistance.”

Joe Lee, co-founder and CIO of digital currency trading platform Magnr, said: “The concept itself is interesting, it is a Reddit and Quora mashup with a strong monetary incentive to produce good quality content. Whether Steem succeeds as a digital currency will be more a reflection of Steemit’s success as a platform as opposed to the economics of the coin itself. This is a good example of a digital currency whose value will be closely affiliated to its utilitarian value as a social networking and sharing platform.”

Petar Zivkovski, director of operations for full-service bitcoin trading platform Whaleclub, said: “My first impression is that it is a ‘pump and dump’ crypto where accumulators (founders, early adopters) will be looking to cash out on a major pump in price (distribution). Whether it survives longer term remains to be proven.”

Tone Vays, head of research at BraveNewCoin, a company that provides data and analytics about the cryptocurrency market, said: “I don’t know why it has value. It just goes to show how you stick the words ‘New Crypto’ in front of something and speculators just come running.”


  • July 2016 – Steem is launched
  • July 2016 – it surpasses $400m to become the third-largest digital currency by market capitalisation
  • December 2016 – the inflation rate of Steem was changed to 9.5% per year, reducing by 0.5% per year
  • March 2017 – Larimer steps down as CTO
  • December 2017 – the price passes the $4 mark and the market capitalisation goes beyond $1bn.
  • June 2018 – Market cap at £339.2m
Post written by Chris Wheal
Chris Wheal is editor of OpenLedger's news and features service. An award-wining business journalists himself, he runs a team of freelance journalists from across the UK and north America.

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